The Grammarphobia Blog

Elliptical reasoning

Q: I’m a court reporter working in Baton Rouge. When someone ends a sentence with “so,” we have differing thoughts here amongst the 20 plus of us. Example: “Question, Why did you buy the drugs? Answer, I had the money, so.” Some here end the answer with “money … so.” What are your thoughts.

A: In the sense you’re talking about, “so” is a conjunction meaning “therefore” or “consequently” or “with the result that.”

A sentence ending with this kind of “so” is incomplete. The speaker is indicating that a fuller reply is possible but isn’t being offered. So the sentence is deliberately incomplete—that is, the speaker wasn’t cut off mid-sentence.

Such a deliberate omission, according to the ordinary rules of English punctuation, should be indicated with ellipsis points at the end.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), under section 13.53 (Deliberately incomplete sentence), says, “Three dots are used at the end of a quoted sentence that is deliberately left grammatically complete.”

So your sentence would be transcribed this way: “I had the money, so …” Note the space between “so” and the first ellipsis point. No period follows (three dots, not four).

You definitely should not use ellipsis points BEFORE the “so.” If any are used at all, they should FOLLOW the “so.”

But if ellipsis points would lead to any ambiguity, don’t use them.

We wouldn’t use them, for example, if there’s any chance that they could be interpreted as meaning that something unintelligible followed or that the speaker was interrupted.

We weren’t familiar with the punctuation conventions of court reporting, but we took a crash course by visiting the website of Margie Wakeman Wells, author of Court Reporting: Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation.

Wells says the use of ellipses to mark a trailing off has been gaining favor among court reporters. She says the use of a dash should be avoided, even with a space before the dash and a period after it.

A dash would be misleading, in our opinion: “I had the money, so—” It would indicate that the speaker was cut off.

If any misinterpretation is possible, we’d throw the rules to the wind and use a simple period: “I had the money, so.”

Your principal aim is not to follow the conventions of ordinary English punctuation, but to accurately convey the sense of what a witness said. And a simple period would do that.

In short, ellipsis points would be our choice—but ONLY if you’re sure that ellipses couldn’t be interpreted as signaling that the speaker was cut off or unintelligible.

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